River Currents

by Free Speech on February 12, 2010

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI
by Gary Engberg
©2010 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Sturgeon Spearer’s Look Forward to Opener This Weekend

All signs point to a successful sturgeon spearing season on Lake Wiinebago

This coming Saturday, February 13th, the Wisconsin sturgeon spearing season opens on Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes of Lake Winneconne, Lake Buttes des Morts, and Lake Poygan. The spearing season lasts until February 28 or until the pre-set Winnebago System wide harvest caps are reached. Spearer’s had to apply for their spearing permit by August 1 for the Upriver Lakes where only 500 permits are allotted and licenses for both Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes must have been purchased by October 31st. An individual can apply for a permit on either Lake Winnebago or the Upriver Lakes, but not both.

If you haven’t ever tried spearing for sturgeons, it is a tradition that is deeply rooted in the outdoor culture of Wisconsin. Spearing sturgeon goes back many generations to spearing families and groups of friends. Some families have traditions that go back to the early days of spearing with the Stockbridge Indians on the east shore of Lake Winnebago in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The “season’ is much like a huge tailgate party with thousands of anglers and their shanties dotting huge massive Lake Winnebago and having fun outdoors. The atmosphere is festive with families and groups getting together in the outdoors to socialize, see old friends, and hopefully get a chance to spear one of these prehistoric fish. Last year, an aerial shanty count had almost 5,000 shacks on the ice opening weekend. This year over 10,000 licenses have been sold, which shows that the sport is increasing in the number of participants and preserving this Wisconsin tradition.

The first spearing season in Wisconsin was in 1903 and later the season was closed from 1915 to 1931. But, the work and effort of the DNR and many other local groups have helped the growth of the sturgeon population to the point where it is now self-sustaining while still giving people the opportunity to spear.

Now, the Lake Winnebago System has the largest self-sustaining sturgeon population in the world and is used as an egg source for lake sturgeon re-introduction projects throughout the fish’s original range North American range. Lake Winnebago is the third largest freshwater lake in the United States encompassing 137,000 acres with 88 miles of shoreline. To put the lake’s size in layman’s terms, the lake is over 10 miles wide and 30 miles long with a maximum depth of only 20 feet.

Here’s a little about the sturgeon for those who don’t know much about this fish. The lake sturgeon is a slow growing, long living, and late maturing fish. Both males and females reach legal spearing size (36 inches) in 9 or 10 years. Both the males and females grow at similar rates till they reach 40 inches, and after that females grow much faster than the males. The female sturgeon usually live longer and therefore reach a much larger size and make up a majority of the fish over 60 inches. Females can live to be 100 years old while males have the potential to live to be 80 years old.

These anglers pose with one of last year's trophy sturgeon from Lake Winnebago

There were extremely high sturgeon harvests in the early and mid 1990’s which negatively affected the Winnebago sturgeon population. But, new regulations that were implemented in 1997 have reduced the harvest exploitation and allowed the population to recover to the robust numbers that now exist. Ron Bruch, the Lake Winnebago sturgeon biologist for the last 19 years, said “I am very glad to report that the sturgeon population and spear fishery are just as good as they were 19 years ago. In fact, the resurgence of 150 pound fish in the population over the last ten years adds a super-trophy element to the fishery that spearer’s haven’t seen since the 1950’s.” Bruch believes that it’s just a matter of time before the 188 pound record sturgeon speared by Dave Piechchowski in 2004 is broken. Every spring during the DNR population assessments, there are fish in the 200 pound class netted by DNR technicians. Because of the continued growth and development of the sturgeon stock, the DNR has raised the system wide harvest cap this season on adult females for the 2010 season to 740 sturgeon which is nearly double the caps first set in 1997 when the harvest cap system was introduced to prevent the exploitation of the fish.

This season the pre-set harvest caps are; juvenile females on Lake Winnebago 280 sturgeon and the Upriver cap is 70 fish for a total of 350 juvenile females, adult females on Winnebago is 666 fish and Upriver cap is 74 fish for a total of 740 adult female sturgeon, and males on Lake Winnebago is 800 fish and Upriver cap is 200 sturgeon for a total of 1000 males. The DNR will close the season on Lake Winnebago when one of the two conditions occurs; at the end of the fishing day in which 100% of any of the Lake Winnebago caps is reached or exceeded or 24 hours from the end of the fishing day within which a harvest of 90% to 99% of any one of the three Winnebago harvest caps are reached. The season will close on the Upriver Lakes when; at the end of the fishing day when 100% of any of the three caps is reached or exceeded or 24 hours from the end of the fishing day within which a harvest of 90 to 99% of any of the caps are reached.

The resurgence of the sturgeon population is another of those “good” DNR stories much like the re-introduction of the wild turkey from Missouri into Wisconsin. After reading all the negative DNR stories about deer and CWD in Wisconsin, it’s encouraging to have a story with a good ending! If you’re interested in learning about the sport or just want to see what it’s all about and have an interesting time, take a drive to the Lake Winnebago area this coming weekend. There are registration stations all around the lake and you can find a map and a list of these stations on the DNR website at http://dnr.wi.gov/fish/regulations/2010/documents/2010WinnebagoSturgeonSpearin .

As of now, this coming Saturday looks good for the sturgeon spearer with good water clarity, plenty of ice, and moderate weather. Warm weather, rain, and run-off can all affect the season and turn a good one into one you’d rather forget. I’ll be there this weekend and I hope some of you come to the Fond du Lac and Oshkosh areas to check out this winter tradition and hopefully see some of these “monster” fish.

If you have questions or ideas contact me at www.garyengbergoutdoors.com anytime.

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